Monday, October 18, 2021

Physicalism, persons, fission and eliminativism

People are philosophically unhappy about nonlocality in quantum mechanics. It is interesting to me that there is an eerily similar nonlocality on standard psychological theories of personal identity. For on those theories:

  1. You survive if your memories survive in one living person.

  2. You perish if your memories fission between more than one living person.

Now imagine that your brain is frozen, the data from it is destructively read, and then sent to two different stations, A and B, located in opposite directions five light minutes away from your original brain. At each station, a coin is simultaneously flipped (say, in the rest frame of your original brain). If it’s heads (!), the data is put into a freshly cloned brain in a vat, and if it’s tails, the data is deleted.

On a psychological theory, if both coins land heads you perish by (2). But if exactly one coin lands heads, you survive at that station. So whether you exist at one station depends on what happens simultaneously (according to one frame) at a station ten light minutes away.

Note, however, that this is not explicable via quantum nonlocality, because quantum nonlocality depends on entanglement, and there is no relevant entanglement in this thought experiment. It would be a nonlocality beyond physics.

I think one lesson here is that ostensibly physicalist or physicalist-friendly theories of persons or minds can end up sounding oddly dualist. For if dualism were true, it wouldn’t be utterly surprising if facts about where your soul reappears could have a faster-than-light dependence on far away events, since souls aren’t governed by the laws of physics. Similarly, on functionalism plus psychological theories of personal identity, you could move between radically different physical embodiments or even between a physical embodiment and a nonphysical realization. That, too, sounds rather like what you would expect dualism to say.

If I were a physicalist, I would perhaps be inclined to be drawn by these observations towards eliminativism about persons. For these observations suggest that even physicalist pictures of the person may be too deeply influenced by the dualist roots of philosophical and theological reflection on personhood. If these roots are seen as intellectually corrupt by the physicalist, then it should be somewhat attractive to deny the existence of persons.

1 comment:

swaggerswaggmann said...

No, as each of the coin only decide for the station. In each of the station you will have a result, the other station will be informed after and the middle will simultaneously be informed from both, this is a feature of the finite speed of light.